Frequent beneficial mutations during single-colony serial transfer of streptococcus pneumoniae

Kathleen E. Stevens, Michael E. Sebert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The appearance of new mutations within a population provides the raw material for evolution. The consistent decline in fitness observed in classical mutation accumulation studies has provided support for the long-held view that deleterious mutations are more common than beneficial mutations. Here we present results of a study using a mutation accumulation design with the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae in which the fitness of the derived populations increased. This rise in fitness was associated specifically with adaptation to survival during brief stationary phase periods between single-colony population bottlenecks. To understand better the population dynamics behind this unanticipated adaptation, we developed a maximum likelihood model describing the processes of mutation and stationary-phase selection in the context of frequent population bottlenecks. Using this model, we estimate that the rate of beneficial mutations may be as high as 4.8×10 -4 events per genome for each time interval corresponding to the pneumococcal generation time. This rate is several orders of magnitude higher than earlier estimates of beneficial mutation rates in bacteria but supports recent results obtained through the propagation of small populations of Escherichia coli. Our findings indicate that beneficial mutations may be relatively frequent in bacteria and suggest that in S. pneumoniae, which develops natural competence for transformation, a steady supply of such mutations may be available for sampling by recombination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002232
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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